How do you see Indian language writers gaining visibility alongside Indian writers in English, and international writers at JLF?
We don’t discriminate in any way between the Indian languages and other languages. That really is one of the USPs of the festival, that it’s relevant whether you’re having a session in Sanskrit or in Swahili, or any Indian language.
This year, our focus is on North East writing, with over 40 selected books. We continue to see how we can cross-pollinate between languages — not just in India, but across the world. Our belief is that much of this writing is so close to the soul and heart of the regional area it represents, that the content in itself is fabulous.
The topics of migration and displacement resonate with discussions at the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
The segment “Citizens and Borders: Migration and Displacement” came about through our discussions with The Museum of Modern Art, New York. We’ve had a fair number of sessions dedicated to visual arts at JLF — from historic miniatures to Subodh Gupta, and everything in between. This is a genre that normally does not find a space in a typical literary coming together. Yet, we believe that artists have a fundamental space in the larger arts conversation, as much of today’s art reflects the politics of its time. Migration and Displacement continues to be one of our overriding themes. It’s one of the big questions that is going to continue to worry the world.We definitely need to do more with the Biennale. It is hugely successful, and does exactly what we do — to bring people together using an arts agenda, help the local economy, create platforms for conversations, and put into perspective a slew of interesting people working in the arts.
As for the focus on “Women and Marginalised Voices”, do you expect these concerns to be unified across cultures, religions and geographies?
We’ve had a Women Uninterrupted series for the last few years, looking at issues that need to be celebrated, addressed and tackled. Whether it’s Aazadi Mera Brand by Anuradha Beniwal, or the Women Waging Peace network, on writers from the war zone, in conversation with Ruchira Gupta. The effort is — how do we address some of the larger social issues that we tend to hear on television, or perhaps read in editorial notes, but don’t get a sense of what the issue actually is, in some depth. And to really do that through discussion, and create a platform where people get to understand them. Across the world, inequity is an issue to be addressed. That is why JLF is set up as a free festival. Our belief has always been that, where there is great inequity, the only thing to bring about transformation and social change is knowledge, rather than subsidy or handouts. Until and unless we are able to create platforms that are accessible to all kinds of people, this will never succeed. At the end of the day, we go back to armchair philosophy, but if it creates even a chink of understanding, or empathy, we would have made a dent in an otherwise closed conversation.
How relevant is the “Magna Carta: The Spirit of Justice” project for new-age readers?
Our new relationship with the British Library gave us access to a facsimile of the first Magna Carta (Great Charter of 1215 AD), based on which every democracy has set its principles. We want to discuss two themes — the constitution of India, and the freedom to dream. We will use the Magna Carta to amplify a series of events commemorating 70 years of India’s independence — to look forward, look back, and look at the basis of democracy. We need to reiterate these principles, and the need to fight for it everyday, collectively.
By Jaideep Sen